In 2019, more than 150,000 people swept into the RiNo Art District to watch approximately 100 artists paint buildings for the annual Crush Walls festival. But in 2020, amid the pandemic, it's a RiNo of a different color.
Sponsorships are down. Safety precautions and costs are up. And while there will still be gatherings, including the Spray Can Bar — where the Black Love Mural Festival and sponsors will showcase their work — much of the festival will take place online. Those who go to see artists like Sydney James and Max Sansing, Taste and Aerosol Kingdom, and Miles Toland and Jodie Herrera collaborate on walls will have to wear masks and social-distance.
But one thing hasn't changed: Crush's mission.
"The essence of Crush is to create a censor-free platform for artists, and for them to get paid for their work while doing it," says artist Tracy Weil, co-founder and head of the RiNo Art District.
That censorship-free ethic has led to some unsettling moments for RiNo, like last year when Denver artist Jolt used his wall to blame the district for the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods, which include Five Points, Cole, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. In the mural, young white people — including a man who resembles local developer Kyle Zeppelin — ride a rhino toward an old Black woman standing in front of her home, with nothing to defend herself with but a rolling pin.
It's a brutal critique, the stuff that other fests might whitewash. Crush owns it.
"He's getting paid to express himself in a way that might not be read as positive for the art district," says Weil. "This creative freedom is the essence of what we are, and he's in again this year."
Between a global pandemic, uprisings against police violence, an uptick in homelessness, a national reckoning with racism and a high-profile election, there's plenty to paint. And Weil expects the 2020 Crush to showcase provocative and captivating work.
This year's artists include: LindzandLamb, Chris Haven, Scot LeFavor, Miss Meeg, Karma Leigh, Mike Graves, Birdcap, Chelsea Lewinski, Hiero Veiga, MYTHIK, The Designosaur, BILD, Gina Ilczyszyn, Dread , ILLSON, Gregg Deal, Patrick Maxcy, DINKC, Shitty Kitten, Esic, AL Grime, Jolt Guerilla Garden, Reds, Alexandrea Pangburn, Olive Moya, Pat Milbery, Ladies Fancywork Society, MPEK, Elvis Nunez, Zehb Palmer, Lindee Zimmer, Anna Charney, Reverie, Kendall Kippley, Ashley Joon, Adam Vicarel, Detour, Marissa Napoletano, Nick Napoletano, Sandi Calistro, Sandra Fettingis, Jason Garcia, Romelle, KoKo Bayer, Lio Bumba, Chromaj, Miles Toland, We Were Wild, Anthony Garcia Sr., Hector Palacios, Onver, Anthony Garcia Sr., Max Sansing, Sydney James, TKO Crew, Tuke, DF Crew, Tracy Weil & Drew Myron, Bimmer, DJ Cavem, AJ Davis, JD Pruitt, Detour, Max Sansing, Kayla Mahaffey, Sydney James, Bakpak Durden, Hiero Veiga, UC Sepia, Aerosol Kingdom, TASTE, Kaitlin Ziesmer, Kaitlin Orin, Max Coleman, Rum Tum, Casey Kawaguchi, Jason Graves, Remington Robinson, Alicia Cardenas, Patrick Kane McGregor, Hoxxoh, El Mac, LYFR , SWS Crew, RTD Crew, KD Crew, ICR Crew, EMF Crew, Su/Q, PS Design
The festival runs September 14 through 20 in the RiNo Art District. For those who want to wait until the crowds have cleared, the murals will stay up until the next edition. But whenever you go, don't expect to be entirely alone: According to RiNo's data, 1.5 million people visit the district to see the murals each year.
Notes Weil: "It's a destination."
For more information, go to the Crush Walls website. And watch for news of the Westword Crush After-Party.
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